Why I Love Mandy
“Under the crimson, primordial sky surrounded by the jagged rocks of the ancient volcanic mountain, the wretched Warlock reached into the dark embrace of the fissure until his hand touched a smooth glassy surface. Cold as ice. His fist closed around The Serpent’s Eye. Slowly he withdrew it and held it before him in the fading light of the blood-red suns. It glowed from within. A ghostly emerald light. Strange and eternal.”
Mandy, released last year, was my second favourite movie of 2018. A blistering, surreal, intensely violent masterpiece, directed by Panos Cosmatos and starring the best actor of his generation, Nicolas Cage, Mandy is a revenge movie with ideas and style for days. Nicolas Cage plays Red Miller who loses his girlfriend Mandy Bloom - played brilliantly by Andrea Riseborough - to a psychotic cult led by Jeremiah Sand, played with supreme sleaze and evil by Linus Roache. Mandy needs no further explanation, as the real joy in the movie is how the mind and soul are transformed, scarred and lifted above the usual realistic nonsense. It is a true film, in the sense that its power is in its visuals. It is a true joy to watch and gets to strange and deep places in the unraveling of its story and meaning. Those who say "style over substance", I say, STYLE IS SUBSTANCE. Mandy reminded me quite a bit of Nicolas Winding Refn's masterpiece Drive, not only for its crushing sense of style, but for the unusual beauty of its harsh violence. Mandy is a film that wraps you up and takes you places; some that you don't want to go. It can be classified then as a Horror movie of sorts, given its mind shattering nature and the truly unsettling atmosphere.
Nicolas Cage gets a lot of unwarranted shit from dullards who question his credibility. Well, let me just say that he has had A LOT of superb performances in the 21st Century, and this may well be his best. It is a truly fearless performance which transcends reality and cracks open a new one. His grief in this picture is deep and real; his grief is distorted and wrong and otheworldly. He is terrifying and unhinged when he settles the score with Jeremiah and his cadre of perverted freaks, reflecting his roles in Wild at Heart, Bad Lieutenant and Vampire's Kiss. If the Oscars were truly for artistic achievement and not politicking and worthy causes, Nic would get the Best Actor nod for this performance.
Mandy is a thrilling ride it's true, but it's so much more than that. It is the story of a fractured, evil world; its characters trying to imbue meaning into the cosmic accident that led to our creation. What is Holy to some is Evil to others. The greatest sin is not to believe in something. Red believes in the glory of revenge, and in war. Through becoming an avenging angel, Red becomes more than human. In doing so though he may very well lose his soul; transformed into a monster, unable to ever return to a normal life. This reminds me somewhat of the stories in Greek mythology that see a hero go through Hell - literally - to rescue their loved one. While Red doesn't rescue Mandy, there is more than a bit of Orpheus journeying through the underworld to rescue Eurydice about this picture.
The cinematography of Mandy by Benjamin Loeb is exquisite. I don't think I have seen a more visually impressive and densely packed picture this decade. A film is supposed to be able to move you and transmit meaning without saying a word. Mandy is a stripped back, glorious expression of the true calling of cinema: to tell a story with pictures, language taking a back seat. It helps to have a grounding in surreal, abstract film making to fully appreciate what Cosmatos and his creative team do here. David Lynch prepared me for this, and as a result I am more than comfortable to find my own meaning without the need for objective understanding.
Those who doubt Nicolas Cage in 2019 have to contend with the fact that he is so incredibly good here. And in Joe, and in Bad Lieutenant and Matchstick Men and on and on. Mandy is a once in a generation film. It is destined to be appreciated in decades to come as one of the great works of art of the 21st Century. Panos Cosmatos and Benjamin Loeb have crafted one of the truly memorable and astonishingly beautiful/repellent films of the last decade +. If you dig Revenge pictures or Horror pictures or just batshit crazy, ultra violent and beautiful exaltations of this mortal/immortal flesh, then Mandy will surprise and delight and destroy your fucking mind. No higher praise than that.